AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
Not many American designers have been able to infiltrate the Parisian haute couture world as successfully as Charles James. Born in 1906 to a British Officer and Chicagoan socialite, James began his career as a milliner before transitioning into fashion design. Most prolific in the 1940s and 1950s, his garments were so complex that the Chicago History Museum used a CT scan to better understand the structure of a dress from their current exhibition, Charles James: Genius Reconstructed.
James created iconic ensembles for some of the most influential women of his day and proved that not all fashion genius existed overseas (and spoke French). Without a superstar designer to translate his vision into modern clothes and perfume sales to fund regular retrospectives, look to museums for a glimpse of the late couturier’s brilliance. Your best bets are to check out The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute archives online here or to visit the Chicago History Museum before April 2012.
Illustration by Michelle Ricks of Charles James’ ‘swan’ dress in a 1951 photo by Horst P. Horst
Above (clockwise from top): ‘The James Encyclopedia by Beaton’ -1948 – photographed by Cecil Beaton, Charles James’ ‘Four Leaf Clover’ dress and sketch – 1953 – Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Charles James by Richard Martin – Assouline – $5.95 at Strand Bookstore